Sunday, March 28, 2010

He's Down But Not Out

I'm sure there's a reasonable rationale for the policy; I'm just not aware of it. To my knowledge, most of the Peoria facilities that house the homeless overnight discharge them by 5:30-6:30 a.m. and they are not allowed to return until evening. As far as I know, on a Sunday morning there is no place that serves a meal to the homeless. For the past year our church has opened up our tiny, narrow office downtown to serve breakfast. My wife and I serve on the team that provides these men and women food, clothing, and conversation each Sunday.

One of the homeless is a young, quiet, unassuming guy. He's reserved; he makes no trouble. One of those guys that has little "voice" and could go unnoticed and disappear off the face of the earth. Last week, some thugs nearly bludgeoned him from this life. He showed up for breakfast, and I noticed huge greenish-yellow bruises around his eyes and jaws. I asked him what happened. He was hard to understand because his jaws weren't working properly, preventing him from speaking clearly. He told me he was walking down a street after dark and some thugs jumped him and proceeded to use his face for batting practice. They had an aluminum baseball bat and took home-run swings at his head and face.

He is having surgery this Thursday. A surgeon is going to insert metal plates and screws under his eye and in his jaws. The outcome remains to be seen.

Jesus promised, "The meek shall inherit the earth." This meek man inherited a baseball bat. This morning we fed him what he was able to swallow. He's having to swallow a lot these days. Respecting him, I didn't press him, but asked him if he would like several of us to pray for him. He was appreciative. I rounded up a couple of younger guys on our team and we prayed for Kyle. He thanked us and then walked out into the damp, cold morning.

God, we do what we can do. Thursday, would you please do what you can do? Amen.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Complicated Journey, Simple Joy

A wedding creates a beautiful day; a divorce rocks a person's entire world. A promotion can enhance the wallet; being down-sized can bring a family to its knees for years. Being told by your doctor you're in good health can make your day; being told you have cancer can change your entire life and future.

It seems it is not the good times that are nearly as formative and life-changing (for good or evil) as it is the tragic, the season of loss. It was a beautiful day when I got married in 1971. When all of that blew to hell several years later, my entire life and even my future took a completely different trajectory. That tragedy catapulted me into choices and a lifestyle I had never imagined. The tragedy changed me--I became someone (something?) monstrous. Fortunately, that same tragedy eventually brought me to my knees as a broken man. I was now pliable; I could now be shaped into a loving man.

A second blessed marriage and four children later, life was relatively smooth. Then a decimating discovery that one of our children was being violated by an adult acquaintance of ours. Unspeakable grief. At times, murderous rage. But that eventually birthed a tender heart, deep compassion for those who have been victimized, and a forever-different but forever-closer relationship with our daughter.

Pain is formative. C.S.Lewis once said that "pain is the megaphone by which God rouses a deaf world." Pain gets our attention and it is often through pain, not pleasure, that God imparts to us and bestows upon us gifts and blessing that come only through the medium of pain. The author, Sheldon Vanaukan, calls it "severe mercy."

This week, my daughter whom I referred to moments ago sent me a poignant blog by a friend of another author, Donald Miller, who wrote A Million Years in a Thousand Years. I encourage you to take the time to read this eloquent slice-of-a-life and to savor the photographs. You will find it at:

Grace and Peace on your journey, my friend.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Delight in the Daily

"Life is Just So Daily." --Mary Engelbreit calendar

The seconds roll into minutes, the minutes add up to hours. . .you know the routine. Sometimes life seems to laboriously plod along with little variance. Uneventful. Predictable. There are no tragedies; neither are there high-fives or fist-bumps. It's just so daily. But it's in the daily that delight occurs. It's in the ordinary that the extraordinary is experienced. If I can only be happy if I win an exotic sailing trip for two to St. Lucia, this is going to be a very, very long, yawn-inducing life.

It's been another very daily week. I went to work. After work, I vegetated in front of the TV more than I should have. In spite of my doctor's cholesterol concerns for me I had a few $.89 Five-layered Beef Burritos. I had the car in for repairs. And it was a grandson's sixth birthday. His mom/my daughter had planned a party , the focal point being laser-tag. Whatever. I was sure the kids would have fun. However he and his mom/my daughter informed me and insisted that I would be a participant. End of what was supposed to be a discussion. All week long if we talked on the phone he'd threaten me, "You're goin' down." Yeh, right. I've never seen, much less played, laser tag, but I viewed it as a few midgets taking me on in a basketball scrimmage; this was going to be a slam-dunk. Sorry to ruin your birthday party, little fella.

We played 2 twenty minute "battles." For the uninitiated, each person wears a cumbersome vest, that on a six year old droops down to his ankles. There are flashing lights on the shoulders, torso and back of the vest. Each person has a laser-gun and if you shoot and your beam of light hits one of those targets that's a "hit" and the victim's own gun is silenced for 5 seconds. Everyone's score is tallied up by computer throughout the carnage--number of hits inflicted, hits incurred, total number of shots fired. The barometric pressure was the only item omitted on the spreadsheet.

The first battle transpires and I didn't even see him the entire time. There were maybe twenty others but it's not like we're roaming the streets of Tokyo trying to find each other. We got our tally sheets and I have a sizable number of people whom I "hit." As did he. Each of us has a "name" we've chosen. He is Cat Boy (his mom previously played as Cat Woman.) Sleek, stealthy, cunning. I was given the name, Goofy. Go figure.

We engage in a second and final battle, and he must have realized he had gotten sidetracked from his intended mission. I had not even left the "waiting room" to enter the battle territory and the door opened and he shot me twice before I stepped on to the field of battle. I entered and, this time, I had no trouble locating him. For twenty minutes he shadowed me up and down corridors, through winding hallways. He was never more than two feet from me. He'd shoot, my laser gun would die for five seconds and boot up, and he then immediately shot me again. For twenty minutes. The other midgets didn't matter. I alone was his concern, his "Papa' in the cross-hairs. At the end we were given our spreadsheets for this battle. Everyone else has all sort of names and numbers in their list of people they "hit." His sheet lists only one--Goofy.

He was right. I went down. It was so satisfying to see how hilarious he thought it was that I couldn't escape him. To see him belly-laugh at my feigned frustration (well, some of it was an act) of getting "hit' non-stop. Cat Boy pounced all over Goofy.

We went back to their house for what I assumed would be peace and quiet. He and two of his cousins were downstairs in the playroom and I was asked to come down under the guise of a light fixture needing repaired. The three jumped me. I went down. (do you sense a theme here?) I spent the next hour in a fetal position protecting indispensable body parts, while they practiced flying drop-kicks, lunges, and soaring leaps on me. We wrestled and wrangled until I had no sensations anywhere, indispensable or not. They laughed, I moaned and we had a great time.

The day came and it went. They all do. But there was extraordinary laughter and joy pulsating throughout this ordinary day. If I had groused about it and went into it with an attitude that this is kids' stuff and let the adults be adults and the kids be kids I and my grand kids would have no stories to tell, no memories to cherish.

I'm glad my grandson extended the challenge and I'm glad he was right. I wouldn't have missed goin' down for anything on this ordinary day.

You can bet I'll be watching 24 and getting some lessons from Jack Bauer. Actually, I bet I could teach him a thing or two. I've never, ever seen him take on a six year old.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dead But Still Funny

(Mitch Hedberg was a great comedian who died in 2005, due to "multiple drug toxicity." I became aware of him only after his death. Here is a sampling of his humor. Enjoy.)

A lollipop is a cross between hard candy and garbage.

I called the hotel operator and she said, "How can I direct your call?" I said, "Well, you could say 'Action!', and I'll begin to dial. And when I say 'Goodbye', then you can yell 'Cut!'"

My manager said, "Don't use liquor as a crutch!" I can't use liquor as a crutch, because a crutch helps me walk.

I want to get a vending machine, with fun sized candy bars, and the glass in front is a magnifying glass. You'll be mad, but it will be too late.

This one commercial said, "Forget everything you know about slipcovers." So I did, and it was a load off of my mind. Then the commercial tried to sell slipcovers, but I didn't know what they were.

I bought a scratch off lottery ticket, but then I accidentally spilled calamine lotion on it, so it did not need to be scratched. Shoot! I will not know if I have won!

I ate one anchovy, and that is why I did not eat two anchovies.

I saw a billboard for the lottery. It said, "Estimated lottery jackpot 55 million dollars." I did not know that was estimated. That would suck if you won and they said, "Oh, we were off by two zeroes. We estimate that you are angry."

I wish they made fajita cologne, because that stuff smells good. "What's that you're wearing? That's sizzlin'!"

I have an idea for sweatshops: air conditioning! That's simple. 14 year old boys working twelve hour days? "Yeah, but they're comfortable!"

If you can't sleep, count sheep. Don't count endangered animals. You will run out.

A fly was very close to being called a land, because that's what it does half the time.

Knock on wood is a saying for good luck. I think that started when someone went to someone's door to see if someone was home. "I hope Joe's home, knock on wood!"
I saw a lady on TV; she was born without arms. That's sad, but then they said, "Lola does not know the meaning of the word 'can't'." That, to me, is even worse, in a way. Not only is she missing arms, but she doesn't understand simple contractions. It's easy, Lola - you just take two words, put them together, take out the middle letters, put in a comma, and you raise it up!

You should never tell someone they have a nice dimple, because maybe they were shot in the face with a BB gun.

I have a few cavities. I don't like to call them cavities. I like to call them "places to put stuff." Do you know where I can store a pea? Yes, I have some locations available.

I lived in an apartment, and I had a neighbor. I knew that whenever he knocked on the wall, he wanted me to turn my music down. I'd mess with his head. I'd say, "Go around. I cannot open the wall!"

You know you can't please all the people all the time, and last night, all of those people were at my show.

I wanted to buy a candle holder, but the store didn't have one. So I bought a cake.

When I get a cold sore, I put Carmex on it, because Carmex is supposed to alleviate cold sores. I don't know if it does help, but it will make them more shiny and noticeable. It's like cold-sore-highlighter. Maybe they could come up with an arrow that heals cold sores.

I tried to walk into Target, but I missed. I think the entrance to Target should have people splattered all around.

I went to a cigar store, the man behind the counter asked me, "What kind of cigars do you like?" I answered, "It's a Boys."

I wear V-neck shirts. I can't wear a regular neck shirt, it hurts. And I especially hate turtlenecks. Wearing a turtleneck is like being strangled by a really weak guy--all day! If you wear a backpack and a turtleneck, it's like a weak midget trying to bring you down.

You know when you go into a restaurant, and it gets busy and they start a waiting list, and they start calling out names, "DuFresnes, party of two." They say again, "DuFresnes, party of two." But then if no one answers, they'll just go to the next name, "Bush, party of three." Yeah, but what happened to the DuFresnes? No one seems to care. Who can eat at a time like this? People are missing! And they're hungry! That's a double whammy! "Bush, search party of three!" You can eat once you find the DuFresnes!

I like vending machines, because snacks are better when they fall. If I buy a candy bar in a store, sometimes I will drop it so it will reach its maximum flavor potential.

I would imagine if you could understand Morse Code, a tap dancer would drive you crazy.

I was going to get a candy bar, the button I was supposed to push is HH. So I pressed the H button twice. Potato chips came out! Turns out there was an HH button. You gotta let me know. I'm not familiar with the concept of HH. I did not learn my AA BB CCs.

When I was a boy, I laid in my twin size bed, wondering where my brother was.

Mr. Pibb is a poor imitation of Dr. Pepper. Dude didn't even get his degree.

I was at this casino minding my own business, and this guy came up to me and said, "You're gonna have to move, you're blocking a fire exit." As though if there was a fire, I wasn't gonna run. If you're flammable and have legs, you are never blocking a fire exit.

I had a paper route when I was a kid. I was supposed to go to 2,000 houses. Or two dumpsters.

I have a cheese-shredder at home, which is its positive name. They don't call it by its negative name, which is sponge-ruiner. Because I wanted to clean it, but now I have little bits of sponge that would melt easily over tortilla chips.

I don't own a cell phone or a pager. I just hang around everyone I know, all the time. If someone wants to get a hold of me, they just say "Mitch," and I say "What?" and turn my head slightly.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Long Face and a Short Fuse

This most recent setback has evoked within me angst and anger. For me they seem to go hand-in-hand. If I'm anxious it's typically accompanied by anger. If I'm saddened, often anger is the surface emotion, masking the sadness. If I'm fearful, I show my raging heart, not my racing heart.

Some of it is unique to me; some of it you struggle with, as well. I think a lot of us men, in particular, wrestle with anger. At the risk of sounding like I'm avoiding personal responsibility, I think men in our culture are groomed to be angry and to show anger as our default emotion. Generally, we are taught or modeled that we are "weak" or "unmanly" if we feel or express sadness or fear or loneliness. We're supposed to "suck it up; be a man." If we didn't quit crying, you know what we'd be given--"something to cry about!" The emotions of feeling sad or afraid or lonely are regarded as "weak." And what emotion is viewed as "strong?"

Showing sadness makes me vulnerable; it puts me on the defense. On the other hand, expressing anger is not threatening to me, but to others. It puts me on the offense. Anger is a man's trump card. Talk about a stacked deck.

Of late I find I'm sad for the world one minute and mad at the world the next. None of us can afford to stay in either camp for long. If I remain sad, I will implode and long for light as I languish in the dark night of depression. If I remain angry, I will explode and you will receive all future blog posts from the Peoria County Jail.

I'm in need of grace and seeking mercy. There's a passage in the Bible that cautions us: "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."
(Hebrews 12:15) It's as though God is saying that in the midst of all that, on the surface, looks like it's gory and godforsaken--grace is also there. The passage also seems to indicate that if a "root" of bitterness is allowed to grow within me, it may, indeed, blind me to or prevent me from receiving the grace God desires to impart.

God, I don't want to miss your grace.

I want to come out of this a better man, not a bitter man.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Update: Disheartening News about Our Haiti Trip

To our friends and family,

Today we received terribly disappointing news from the director of the Crisis Response International informing us that the our mission trip to Haiti is canceled. We have little information to go on other than his acknowledgment of the following:

Due to circumstances out of our control we no longer have a base camp in Port au Prince. Our Rapid Training and Deployment is designed to fill the need of operating the camp in Port au Prince. At this time we are unable to accommodate the amount of responders we currently have signed up and they need to be deployed first. We currently don’t have a camp that can adequately accommodate incoming teams.

We have been working hard for the last several weeks to develop relationships in alternative locations as well as clear debris for a camp at an orphanage in Leogane. . . unfortunately at this time we feel like it would be in everyone’s best interests to cancel this training.

We are very sorry for an inconvenience this may create for anyone and we appreciate your flexibility with the complex issues that crisis brings up. A complete refund will be issued and we hope you would consider one of our training events in the future.

Les and I are frustrated and very discouraged about this setback. A lot of planning has been going into this; time has been scheduled out of the office and will be difficult to fill hours with clients. We're not sure what to do at this point in terms of this window of time, 3/27-4/13.

We appreciate your prayers and any suggestions you might have.

To those of you who have already sent us financial support we assure you that money will be returned shortly.

Please give us a few days to process all this and figure out how to make the best use of that block of time that is now open.

Grace and Peace, Steve and Les

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Those who Dwell in Hell Need to Know Heaven Has Not Forgotten Them

"Hell is empty and all the devils are here." --William Shakespeare

Shakespeare must have visited Haiti. A year ago this past Christmas my wife, Leslie, and I engaged in a short-term mission trip to Haiti. I had been to Honduras, often regarded as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, on half a dozen occasions the past 10 years. The U.S. poor look wealthy compared to the poverty-stricken in Honduras.

Honduras is hard; Haiti is Hell. Within 48 hours of arriving, I was wanting to return home and dreading the remaining 12 days. I feel I'm pretty tough when it comes to living in hardship. Haiti stripped me of any inflated opinions of my emotional fortitude.

Haiti is raw. Life there is brutal. The first day we were there our hosts wanted to show us the typical outdoor market. We were walking down a main thoroughfare in this market, hundreds of people shoulder to shoulder, lots of noise, too much smell, and food on display you would and will never choose to eat. As we're walking I noticed the throngs of people in front of us begin to veer to the left or to the right, and I'm assuming there's mud or standing water causing everyone to take the diverting paths. We walk another ten feet and lying in the middle of the dirt path is a corpse. A man is lying there, and flies have begun to gather on his face. People walk around him and continue their business. Just another day at the market. When people are merely existing and not "living" there is no respect for life. The vast majority of Haitians are destitute, unsure of food and shelter for that very day, much less preoccupied about tomorrow.

On a normal day, Haiti is Hell. Imagine what it must be like since the earthquake hit. I can't. We've all seen the footage. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but, I can tell you, a picture isn't worth two minutes of being there. Have you ever had the experience of going on a beautiful vacation and having taken some pictures of breath-taking scenery, you get back, have them developed, and they look so bland and anemic? Pictures don't do justice to Heaven; they certainly underestimate Hell.

Since seeing the initial footage of the earthquake my heart has gone out to these who dwell in Hell. I have wrestled with what is my responsibility. ( If you haven't already viewed them, see 2 previous blog posts wherein I talk about Haiti and my internal struggle--do I go or do I stay? See Jan.17, Hell in Haiti, and Feb. 3, Come Hell or Salt Water I Gotta Get Out of Here.)

Les and I have talked and prayed, and feel both compelled and "called" to go. We found out about a relief organization, Crisis Response International, and applied. Just last week they informed us we are accepted. We have a lot to do in a short period of time. We are required to undergo three days training in CPR, education about the Haitian culture, and prepping for working there. Training begins on 3/27 in Kansas City, and from there we and the other team members fly to Haiti on 3/30. We will return on 4/13. As you can see, we will be able to serve on the front lines for two weeks. We have not been told precisely what we will be doing. I surmise that the chaos is such that everyone there is still overwhelmed. CRI did say we will probably be “working in Leogane (20 miles west of Port-au-Prince), a city in the epicenter of the earthquake. The team has been working at an orphanage there, clearing rubble, working with the children when possible. As of right now, the conditions are hard and strenuous. It would definitely be an adventure if you are up for the challenge. It is hot, and rainy. Things are subject to change on a daily basis, as expected in times of crisis. . . “

I am both excited and, to be honest, nervous. Excited about the possibilities of providing concrete help; nervous about the psychological and emotional impact of all the destruction. Nonetheless, we believe God is calling us to do this, and the Scriptures attest that what God calls us to do He also empowers us to do.

I also feel compelled to do this. I believe that we who have so much need to give to those who have so little.

We need financial support in order to do this. Costs for the training and flights are @ $1200 each. In addition, there are 4 -5 nights lodging stateside, insurance, supplies we need to purchase, and loss of more than two weeks income (for me.) This is no pressure, no guilt, no manipulation. If you desire to help and have the means to do so, you can partner with us in one of two ways:

*If you desire to contribute online, please go to our church website At the bottom right-hand corner you will click on“Give on-line,” then click on “Give Instantly—a one time gift.” Then click on “Select One.” Click on “Steve and Leslie Harris’ Trip.”

*If you desire to support us by check, please make your check payable to Imago Dei Church, and in the note section write “Steve and Leslie Harris Haiti Trip.” Send your check to our church address: Imago Dei Church, 309 B Main Street, Peoria, IL. 61602

If you cannot help financially or choose not to, we appreciate and depend on your prayers and your encouragement. Your "comments" will be especially meaningful the next several weeks.(Those of you who don't normally comment--this would be a great way to "partner" with us in the ensuing weeks.)

Tryon Edwards, a nineteenth century American theologian, made the following statement:

"Hell is truth seen too late--duty neglected in its season."

To go to Haiti may be the equivalent of going to hell. For me, to neglect to go would be hell, as well.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Mongo Studies Quantum Physics and Particle/Wave Duality

I'm freaking out. I'm completely fixated upon and obsessed with a mistake of macro-magnitude. Consequently, this post will be short. You're welcome.

I'm an idiot savant, minus the savant, when it comes to computers. In seconds I can screw things up that are fail-proof. My computer IQ is a single digit with a decimal point to the left. Do you remember the movie Blazing Saddles? Alex Karras played Mongo, a cowboy with a single digit IQ, and a decimal point to the left. When it comes to technological savvy or competency, I'm Mongo. "Me Mongo, me fix."

Yesterday, me go into my contacts. Me move members of one group to new group. Me no need first group anymore so me delete that group and me somehow also delete over half of my entire contact list. Poof! It gone! Me very, very upset! Me clutch chest. Me grab paper bag and breathe into it all night. Me look everwhere; me no find. Me call friend who knows computers; she no find. Me now in fetal position and still breathing into paper bag.

Me have spent all day going back through old emails and one-by-one typing into my contact list all I can find. Me not live long enough to find them all. Me so upset me could end up on the 10 o'clock news tonight. Stay tuned.

Me Mongo, me in a fix. Mongo have to go now and try not to ruin anything else.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sometimes Faith is Not a Leap, But a Step

"More than any other time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to utter despair and hopelessness; the other to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." --Woody Allen

Whether on a global--or individual--scale, sometimes it feels as though we're left with those two paths that only Woody Allen in his eternal optimism could elucidate. Foregoing the global picture, I ask you for these few minutes to consider the trajectory of your individual life, and I'll give thought to mine.

Some--maybe a lot--of my life and choices are heading in a good direction. If I'm honest with myself, though, there are areas where SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE!! If something doesn't significantly change, at the very least I will experience debilitating disappointment, and, at the worst, the possibility of crashing and burning.

Have you ever had the experience of starting a new direction, beginning a new interest, or charting a different moral or ethical course and after a period of time you stopped? Maybe you haven't given up, but you quit taking steps that were moving you in your intended direction. My inclination is to coast, to hit the cruise button, and consequently end up drifting. Spinning wheels might be exhilarating in a muscle car, but it's exhausting in life.

I came across an acronym several years ago. I posted it on our frig as a warning to self:


If You Always Do What You Always Did
, You Always Get What You Always Got.

It's an ongoing battle for me (has been for years) to break out of either my comfort zone or depressive lethargy. I used to carry in my wallet a four-line rhyme that served to jump-start me out of my tendency to become immobilized. It went something like, "For years he trod a narrow groove that few would find fulfilling; which just goes to prove stagnation must be thrilling." I know. "Cheery thought, Steve. "

We have to break out of our narrow grooves. Years ago, I sought the counsel of a wise therapist in Colorado. I was in a bleak and immobilized state (of mind, not of Illinois.) I chose to drive out there. In the midst of the stunning scenery of the Rocky Mountains I was contemplating my life. As I'm driving through the mountains I look ahead and see that the Interstate goes right through this mountain. I then see a huge sign giving all travellers an alert:


I was so taken aback by the message I nearly crashed in the tunnel. What a metaphor! I wondered if I even needed to talk with this therapist; the sign itself was nearly life-changing. My nature is to stop. I become fearful; I stop. I'm confused; I stop. Depressed? I stop.

We may pause, but we can't afford to stop. And we can't do what we always did.

Hope is rekindled when I take one step--a different step. Today. I don't have to have tomorrow, next week, next year figured out. Today. What is one step you can take today that would constitute movement, rather than doing what you always did? One step today would mean you took your life out of Park or Neutral, and shifted into Drive.

The Scriptures advise, "This day, choose. . . " One step, one choice, one decision, and you will disrupt the depressing dance of my frig acronym. Today, to be able to say, "I didn't do what I always did" could lead to a dance of delight. And dancing is all about steps.